If you're a parent, educator, or even someone keeping an eye on global trends, the term "STEM education" likely rings a bell.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These represent some of the most sought after skill sets on the job market yet there continues to be an inadequate amount of college graduates from these fields to fill the need.
One area of focus for developing more STEM graduates is to encourage young people to pursue STEM majors in college. Yet even then, many college students who begin their education as STEM majors veer away within the first two years of college. The attrition is often attributed to factors such as scientific literacy and performance in introductory courses.
Whatever the case may be, the outcome is a continuing shortage of graduates from STEM programs in the United States.
This creates an open question as to what it would take to get young people more apt to pursue STEM based educational and career options.
In answer to this question Maysoon Lehmeidi Dong, Associate Director for the Education & Community Outreach Department at UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies, has recently co-authored a paper entitled, "Life Science Research Immersion Program Improves STEM-Specific Skills and Science Attitudes Among PreCollege Students."
The paper explores the Life Science Research Immersion Program (LSRIP) developed by the paper's coauthors in an attempt to ignite greater interest and engagement in STEM education for pre-college students. The hope of the program is to lay the groundwork for students to continue their STEM education into college and beyond, and equip them for a prosperous journey through higher education and into eventual STEM professions.
What is the Life Science Research Immersion Program (LSRIP)
The Life Science Research Immersion Program (LSRIP) was developed by Dong and her colleagues to integrate hands-on STEM based research experiences into curriculums for pre-college students.
The program aims to enhance scientific reasoning and foster positive attitudes toward science among pre-college students. The hope is that it will prepare these students for introductory college courses and pave the way for successful careers in STEM fields.
The LSRIP's curriculum includes life science and biology research projects structured to be appropriate for the knowledge and skill level of pre-college students in the program. The experiments they work on include exploring genetic diversity of agaves, shock-induced gene expression changes in nematodes, sex-specific gene expression in fruit fly brains, and transcriptional changes in nematodes due to toxicant exposure. Through these projects students engaged in the full spectrum of scientific research, from formulating hypotheses to analyzing data, and presenting findings.
Throughout each academic quarter, students invest approximately 10 hours per week in their project. This includes instructional sessions, participating in experiments, and scientific communication. The format encourages active involvement at every stage of the research process, from shaping hypotheses to conveying data insights.
Through hands-on experience with STEM concepts in action, the hope is that students will develop an interest in STEM topics that will sustain them through their academic careers.
What were the results of the program?
To gauge the program's impact, Dong and the other researchers conducted pre- and post-program surveys and assessments on the participating student groups.
The initial results were encouraging and provide tangible evidence of the program's efficacy.
The survey results, as measured by the Test of Science-Related Attitudes (TOSRA), showed improved attitudes towards science from the students participating in the program. Two categories in particular stood out as especially promising. These were "Normality of Scientists," showing a 2.9% improvement in attitude scores from students, and "Leisure Interest in Science," showing a 2.78% improvement.
These findings imply that the LSRIP doesn't just bolster scientific reasoning; it also fosters a healthier perspective on scientists and kindles enthusiasm for science as a recreational pursuit.
What conclusions can be drawn from the study?
Dong and the other authors of the paper attribute the value of the LSRIP's positive outcomes to its emphasis on active learning, collaboration, and authentic research engagement.
The program's adaptability to different science backgrounds enabled students to benefit irrespective of their prior knowledge levels. Furthermore, the lengthier and more engaged research experiences appear to also foster more positive attitudes towards science from the participants.
The study underscores the significance of offering pre-college research opportunities to cultivate deep scientific skills and interest in the hopes of sustaining interest in STEM for students in the long term.
As we march towards an increasingly STEM-driven future, investing in innovative programs like the LSRIP may become increasingly valuable for cultivating a proficient and motivated STEM workforce, poised to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
To learn more about Maysoon Lehmeidi Dong and the Life Science Research Immersion Program (LSRIP) visit: researchscholars.ucsd.edu/currentprograms/lifesciences/index.html or read the study here: journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/jmbe.00078-22
Maysoon Lehmeidi Dong has worked for UC San Diego in a variety of different capacities for over 10 years. Prior to working with UC San Diego Extended Studies, she was the Assistant Director of the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program at the Jacobs School of Engineering. She also worked in the Division of Biological Sciences as a Program Coordinator, developing and maintaining continuing education programs for professionals in the field of biotechnology. Maysoon received her B.A. in Mathematics and Economics from UC San Diego and received her M.S. in Economics from Boston University.